All too often people spend all of their time studying grammar and memorizing lists of words instead of actually going out there and putting what they’ve learned into practice. Anyone who’s taken the plunge and moved away from home to study English, or moved abroad to work or travel, will tell you just how quickly their English skills improve. While studying the written language is still hugely important, especially for improving your grammar and building your vocabulary, the most effective learning still happens face-to-face.
When you’re surrounded by people who don’t speak your native language, you have no choice but to overcome your fears – your fear of making mistakes, of being shy, of sounding foolish – all things that stand in the way of your language learning. Being forced to speak the language helps you to overcome those fears, to realize that English speakers don’t care if you make mistakes, and to reach out and build your language skills in a very real way.
Speaking, and listening, to other people in English helps to boost the faith you have in your own abilities and banish the doubts that are inside your head. So it’s definitely a confidence booster, but there are many more ways in which speaking the language can improve your English skills, fast.
When you’re talking to an English speaker, all that you’ve learned in your language studies so far need to be on call at a moment’s notice. Essentially, speaking a language helps to move your knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation from the back of your mind to the front, or from your ‘slow memory’ to your ‘quick memory.’ Given time, this will improve your fluency and memory too.
Try to think of it as ‘muscle memory’, which is so important to athletes and musicians too. When you’re learning guitar, it’s all very well sitting down and memorizing every possible chord, but until you start strumming those strings and putting the chords into practice it’s very hard for you to play fluently. The more you play, the more you build up your ‘muscle memory’ and your fingers automatically know where to go without you having to think about it – this is what begins to happen with your language skills when you start to speak the language out loud.
At EF English Live we think the most exciting part about learning a new language is communicating – it’s the real reason we fall in love with languages in the first place – we want to have the ability to talk to anyone, from anywhere in the world. When you have enough skills under your belt to open up your mouth and chat to people, really using the language, it’s genuinely exciting. Talking to people in their own language is challenging too – trying to keep up with the speed of the words, the new words and sentence structures you’re not used to, slang words and dialects –the challenge and excitement can be incredibly motivating.
Nothing beats the feeling of holding your first 10-minute conversation with someone in English. Knowing that you’ve managed to hold a conversation for this long is such a boost to your confidence, and you just want to improve and improve. There’s no better motivator than face-to-face communication.
Learning from your mistakes
Speaking English out loud helps to expose any gaps in your vocabulary and grammar. When you’re talking to someone and struggling – whether it’s to finish a sentence or understand what they’re saying, it shows you instantly what you do know and what you don’t, where you’re doing well and what you need to improve. You can learn from your mistakes, and often speaking with a native English speaker is the quickest way to correct them – they can point out to you where you’re going wrong, and help you improve more quickly.
The vast majority of English speakers will be happy to help you, they won’t judge you, and this is where having a language partner can be a real advantage. Being able to speak regularly with someone who you trust and feel comfortable with will encourage you to speak the language even more.
When you’re studying at home alone it can be very hard to truly recreate the communicative side of learning a language. Language is a tool for communication and this part of the learning process is so important. Speaking and listening in a foreign language will boost those practical communication skills in a way that textbook learning never will, which is why our school offers group and on-to-one lessons.
Getting out there are speaking what you’ve learned isn’t just important in terms of your language studies – it’s important for you as a human being too! Making new friends, and opening up new possibilities to travel, new job prospects, holiday opportunities, even finding love – speaking a new language opens doors in surprising ways. Going to an English-speaking country and not speaking the language leaves you isolated, so never be afraid to reach out and speak – it’s through communicating that we can grow as people as well help grow our vocabularies!